I'm sure that I've posted a version of this tale, somewhere in the not too distant past. But, having spent a good time going over the events leading up to last Friday, feel sure it is worthy of another, up-dated, airing? The start of this adventure has its' roots firmly embedded in the lunacy of a three season long campaign after the Barbel of the Kentish Stour. Or, more accurately, those Barbel which inhabited the stretch between Willow Close and Broad Oak Industrial Estate. Canterbury. Can't be more precise as I wouldn't want to spoil it for the locals - ha ha ha! That period which Benno and I spent, and were amply rewarded for, was a surreal mix of Billy Smart's Circus and The Wild West - there were some proper wrong'uns knocking about the banks during those times. Although I must make it very clear that neither Benno, myself, or any of our other mates, who fished this stretch, ever had cause for concern because of the antics of this alternate mob! To be fair, we all enjoyed a level of success which., even looking back now, has to be right up there with our finest moments. Benno, Luke and I all caught barbel which set new PB weights, whilst Tom Bradbury and Bunny took their first fish from this wonderful river. So many happy days!
|12 lbs 10 oz of Broad Oak barbel - fantastic memories of crazy times, dodging the wrong'uns!|
So to that fateful day, July 6th 2015, and how a single phone call changed the direction of my angling journey forever. I was a loose end and found myself with an opportunity to get out with the rods, yet hadn't anything planned. "I know, I'll get down the river for an evening Barbel session" and, as luck would have it, knew that Benno and Luke had been "drop-shotting or micro - jigging?" around the Sainsbury's stretch that very morning. My phone call to Benno is catalyst to the whole saga. If it hadn't taken place who knows what I'd be fishing for today? So there I was, already given the okay by Bev, sorting out the barbel gear for an evening session on the river when Benno provided the news that EA weed cutting, further upstream, had rendered the river unfishable. I was clutching at straws for a Plan B, I didn't have one. I remembered a conversation, with a fellow angler, whilst pike fishing out on the marsh. He'd spoken of tench that he, and his mates, had caught from a nearby venue, with weights that made my time on Wilstone seem ordinary? Obviously there are many outside influences that have impacted upon water quality and fish growth since the 1980's and this might well be a consequence. Whatever the current status, there was only one way to discover the truth of this particular situation, I had to take a look for myself. A leap of faith, if you like?
I wasn't set up to go tench fishing, my kit for that first session was bastardised barbel tackle and the associated bait options that came with it. I did have one ace up my sleeve, as I still had a tub (a Chinese take away container) of frozen "curried" chick peas left over from the 2014 season. Tally - ho! That first session was purely on a whim; swim choice based upon gut feeling and a smidgen of watercraft. I saw no signs, nor had any previous knowledge, it really was a chuck it and see session. The chick peas were the only extra that I took with me, 18 mm halibut pellets being my go to barbel baits at that time. The flatlands are a fabulous place to waste away a few hours and I really don't recall the time span between casting my baits and that first bite. What I do remember is the absolute "out of the blue" moment when the alarm, on the chick pea set up, sounded and the indicator slammed up to the butt ring. The battle, that ensued, was epic, purely because I was thinking all things tench. I'd only taken my Tring 24" circular pan net and found myself well out gunned by this first encounter with these wild carp of the flatland drains. It took three attempts before my adversary was securely within the folds of that inadequate net and what a fish it was to behold. An 18 lbs 2 oz Common Carp lay there before me. A truly stunning fish, right out of the mould of those iconic carp that Dick Walker and Jack Hilton had, so eloquently, written about all those decades before. I can't, honestly, recall another fish making such an impact? Yet, I'm sure my first 2 lbs + Roach did, as would have the first 7 lbs + Tench but, at that moment I knew Carp fishing still had a place in my own angling adventure. I still had an opportunity to push myself without resorting to the "tackle tart" mentality of circuit water carping. It was just four days later, but this time for a dawn start, that I really set the wheels in motion. No messing about, pretending to be Tench fishing, I had the 42" landing net with the full carp set-up and wasn't to be disappointed. Two bites = two carp landed. The larger of the brace, another magnificent Common Carp, was my first twenty since February 1984, I was living the dream?
|My first twenty plus carp in thirty - one years!|
I carried on visiting the venue, catching quite a few more fish, all Commons, to just over sixteen pounds but, somehow allowed myself to get distracted and ventured off on another challenge. The winter was spent pike fishing but, as I passed my sixtieth birthday mark, received a 1959 "Earl's Court Boat Show" limited edition B James & Son, Dick Walker Mk IV, split cane, carp rod from my family. I couldn't help myself? I went out and purchased another one, so as I could fish with a pair of these iconic relics from an era when all fish were equal in status and merit. The East Kent drains are subjected to the traditional close season ruling that applies to the entire Stour catchment area. The Royal Military Canal, however, does not fall under this statute and it was here that I embarked upon my quest to catch a split cane thirty. This was something which became far more important to me, at a very personal level, later in the year. Benno was still living down at Sandgate at this time and we were to embark upon a rather enjoyable project which was to see us both take some very nice carp from the Seabrooke section of the fishery. Because Benno was living so close by, we were able to indulge in a pre-baiting program which certainly aided our effort. A lesson which has not been forgotten.
June 2016 and as the new season got underway, so I was back out on the flatlands, once again looking for that thrill of chasing the unknown - catching the impossible? I got off to an absolute flier, two more twenties, including a Mirror of 23 lbs 10 oz, and a nineteen before my father's deteriorating health put an end to the effort. Bev and I were to move into Dad's place thus ensuring he could remain at home as he neared the end. We kept our word, Dad passed away, peacefully, in his own bed and I'd had plenty of time to re-assess what is actually important in life? My promise that I'd catch a thirty on my family's gift now, more than ever. means that I have a target to focus upon. After the funeral was out of the way I returned to the marsh to continue my quest, yet with a nagging doubt about the reality of such a carp actually living in these drains.
I switched venues and quickly stumbled upon a fish which looked like it might just be "the one". I had a 21 lbs 14 oz Common Carp, very shortly after getting back fishing but had, then, to suffer the moronic baiting overload, by a selfish half-wit, which ended the project for that year. Any how, it's in the past and that, misguided loser has now departed the flatlands. I returned for a few sessions during the following season but had got involved with a couple of club waters and, have to admit, didn't give it my best effort. There can be no getting away from the utter joy I derived from my time spent at those club venues but, as with so many things it seems, politics and personality clashes brought an abrupt end to the situation. I walked away. Glad I'd spent time on the banks and fortunate to encounter the characters who's paths had been crossed whilst simply enjoying catching carp from these popular fisheries. Even though I found the fisheries to be less than testing, there were still good learning opportunities to be had in terms of understanding the nuances of rig mechanics and bait presentation. Although completely over-run by "scamps" I did manage to snare the largest "known" fish in the complex on a margin fished floater set-up presented on a Mk IV split cane and Mitchell 300 combo.
|As far as I'm aware - this single carp represents the "A Team" in this fishery.|
To be honest, it was a very pleasing moment and one that comes as close, as I want, to
"circuit" venue angling. A cracking fish on the split cane.
The drains were still out there, nagging away in the background, and I embarked upon another project but had to curtail the effort due to outside influences. First it was Bev's father, quickly followed by her Mum's deteriorating health, that was to put a stop to any thoughts of extended sessions and pre-baiting campaigns. I know that a few carp were caught during this period of uncertainty, but there was no rhyme, nor reason, to the angling effort involved. I was just going through the motions.
|The Dick Walker, split cane, Mk IV's awaiting action on the RMC.|
That left hand bite alarm is an original Steve Neville, circa 1993, the
indicators are Tring tench swing arms and the reels? Mitchell 300's of course!
So now I'm up to the here and now. As promised, I will explain the thought processes involved in my approach to carp fishing these intimate venues at this time of year. This isn't a "how to" but, more precisely "how I do it" type of offering. I've passed comment about steering clear of circuit fisheries and the cult status created by the big brands, within the hobby. Yet there is no way I can ignore the superb range of, high quality, products offered by these top end manufacturers. To do so would be verging on insanity. The kit I have on show, to those souls whom I encounter, doesn't matter a jot to the carp? What really does matter is what I'm presenting in the water and how it appears to those fish I'm targeting. I don't have (or want) any affiliation to the big brands within modern carp angling but am happy to state that I have the utmost faith in Korda hooks, particularly their "wide gape" pattern, coated braids and tungsten tubing. Similarly Nash have produced so much high quality kit that I now find myself the proud owner of three Siren R3 alarms, plus a receiver box, and two Scope GT4000 reels. I'm rapidly morphing into a "carp faggot!" Adverts over - where was I?
The approach of Storm Darcy had been well documented. The forecasters predicting doom and gloom across vast tracts of the UK. Me? I'm pike fishing out on the flatlands where I was able to witness some incredible surface activity by carp and tench in a very localised area of the drain I was fishing. Having finished the session, before I went home, I played around with a lead to establish the topography of the stretch where these fish had been showing. It didn't take long to discover a deep channel, with a firm base, was the feature over which these fish had been active. I won't dwell on the mix of awful weather and work commitments but, instead, just say that it was the final week of the "traditional season" before I was able to return to the venue for a last gasp saloon type of effort. It was Tuesday 9th March when I actually had my first attempt. Just a morning session and, although I blanked, saw enough to encourage me to return asap. Blasting W/NW wind accompanied by squally showers became the prevailing weather pattern for the final four days. However, this didn't prevent me from driving across, pre-shift, to keep bait being introduced into the swim.
Now I appreciate just what a minefield the subject of bait has become. People can write whole books on the subject, yet still not explore all the options. All I have to say on the subject is particles. I have absolute faith using this type of offering and so had no doubts about my chances of catching simply because I avoided commercially produced pellets and/or boilies. So for those who are interested, this is my go to party mix. I've a supply of Racing Pigeon "conditioning" mix to which I add hemp seed. I keep it stored in airtight containers. It's exactly the same base mix I used for barbel fishing all those years back. To prepare the seed I soak it for 24 hours before placing it in my slow cooker and heating it for at least twelve hours. It's important to ensure that there is sufficient liquid, especially towards the end period, otherwise the batch will dry and become ruined. There are a couple of tweaks I use, just to enhance the attractiveness of this gloopy mess. Six large teaspoons of sugar and a healthy glug of supermarket "Banoffee" ice cream syrup are added prior to the heating. The finished concoction is like runny mashed potato with lots of bits in it. Once cooled down, it is a sticky mix of, easily digested, a very important factor during the colder months, carp attraction from which I select my hook offerings. For this final fling, I had decided to stick with two grains of maize topped off with a IB pop-up fake grain (Korda) just for a sight aid. The added buoyancy might also help neutralise the weight of the hook? For these sessions I used an inline 2 1/2 oz lead with 18" of tungsten tubing plus a back lead. My short hook links were made of Combi link and my hooks were the ever reliable size 6 Korda "widegapes"
Certainly nothing revolutionary about my methods or bait, yet because it can't be purchased directly over the counter, 90% of carp anglers will never bother going through the rigmarole of preparing their own particle baits and, because of this, I am at an advantage. I have my edge. and on that final Friday I also got my reward.
|What flatland dreams are made of|